The benefit of living west of Madingley Hall (the home of our main office) is that I see sunrises on winter mornings driving into work and sunsets on the way home... as long as I reach home before dark, which is not the case for a goodly part of the year. This morning a huge blood-red sun peered over the horizon into a clear bright grey sky just as I began the journey, but was already fully up, and bright golden yellow by the time I pulled into the car park.
Temperatures in our area were only at -3°C when I started work, and in the past couple of weeks the weather here has shifted to and fro between chilly, unseasonably mild and freezing. The Polar winds that have swept down through Russia and across central Europe are just reaching us here: a reminder that winter has still a long way to travel before melting into spring and speeding on into summer, when temperatures are usually very pleasant, but remain as unpredictable as ever.
Speaking of travel: many of you who are planning to join us this summer may find that the flights into and out of London immediately preceding and following the Olympic Games are filling fast, or are more expensive than usual. This may be the year to investigate alternative routes into Cambridge, via Stansted or Luton or even Manchester airports. Some non-European passengers might even find it would be beneficial to take a flight into one of the other major European hubs nearby (such as Amsterdam or Paris), and then take another flight or the train from there.(And some airlines come into the UK from North and South America, or from Asia and Australia via Europe and Iceland, in any case.) The best thing is to book early, and to check for the best deals by train or coach from your airport to Cambridge. The UK train network is very good, although the prices are higher than in some countries: if you book early you can often get very good deals. You may find it useful to know that trains operate on a different timetable on Sundays, when maintenance and repairs take place, and parts of some journeys can substituted by coaches, so it’s always worth checking out the coach routes, too. If three or four of you are travelling together, then a shared taxi is always another option.
Courses are beginning to fill: some, like sprinters, are fast off the mark with more than 10 of the 25 places already taken. Others begin to fill slowly, and build up the numbers steadily through the next few weeks. And some take a sudden leap in enrolments, surprising us, from one week to the next. If there are courses that you particularly want to apply for, we would advise you to get your application in as soon as you can.
We’re excitedly turning our attention back to the plenary talks, finding lecturers to fit the plenary themes of ‘Survival’, ‘Treasures of the East’, ‘Triumphs and disasters’, ‘Intelligence’, ‘Interrogating Shakespeare’, ‘Leaders and leadership’ and ‘Technology and skills’. We have already booked a return visit in week five (5-11 August) from musician Trevor James, who last year delighted the Shakespeare, Medieval and Interdisciplinary Term II Summer Schools' participants with music from medieval and Renaissance instruments. Listening to the haunting and beautiful sounds of instruments alien to most of us now, but once well-loved and well-known, such as the bowed psaltery and the gemshorn spirited us back hundreds of years… to a world of feasting in great halls in castles...Whilst the courses and plenaries offer the serious academic challenge and the chance to learn about the literature, drama, politics and history of medieval and Shakespearean England and Europe, it’s so often the one-off sessions of readings, enactment and practical skills and the related visits at weekends to see buildings and artifacts that help us set this material in context, and transport us across the centuries. I can still hear that psaltery, and picture the sun rising over the castle walls…..
The full value of those airline or train tickets could lie in their ability not only to transport you to Cambridge in summer 2012, but to other worlds and other times.
Oh dear, I've just missed another sunset!